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A political and news media plutocracy

DISCUSSIONS | May 26, 2006

Bill Graves

1999 Nieman fellow, Nieman Class of 1999; education writer, the Oregonian


The print press produces volumes of good information on the candidates and issues, especially in national political races, but that often gets buried under the noise of reports and shallow debates that dominate the day-to-day campaigns. Consequently, much of the voting public seems oblivious to how money is influencing campaigns or to how the candidates have handled political issues throughout their careers.

Broadcast media have less capacity, and seemingly, less will to report in-depth, settling instead to follow the candidates around and report what they say. As a result, events such as the silly swift boat campaign against John Kerry roar to the forefront of the campaign news, eclipsing real issues like education, health care and foreign policy. 

Somehow the print and broadcast media have to resist pouring all of their resources into the news of the moment and sustain a flow of more meaningful information on the candidates’ backgrounds and records, on whom they are taking money from and on the potential consequences of their positions on issues such as Social Security reform.

Political reporters need to report more on how money and special interests influence politics. We now have a Congress full of millionaires, and on national television we have millionaire journalists reporting on them. The national leadership and national broadcast press have practically created a plutocracy. It is up to the print media to keep this problem nagging at the national consciousness. Political reporters also need to have a better understanding of the economy and how political decisions affect it.


Finally, political reporters need to be aggressive, and if not adversarial, skeptical and probing. Giving an elected official a honeymoon is an anathema to good reporting.      


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